The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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Why is the Devil's Tower legend important to the Kiowa tribe in The Way to Rainy Mountain?

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The legend of Devil's Tower is important as it shows the deep connection that the Kiowa have to their natural surroundings. To most people outside the tribe, Devil's Tower may just look like a strange, gigantic stone formation. But to the Kiowa, it's imbued with deep cultural and spiritual significance.

According to legend, Devil's Tower was formed when a child turned into a bear and chased his sisters into a tree. The tree ascended to the sky while the bear scratched away at its trunk. The legend—as recounted by Momaday's grandmother—illustrates how the environment acts on the Kiowa, how it joins them to the land, blurring the distinction between the human and the natural world.

In the modern world, we tend to look at nature as an object radically apart from us, something to be controlled and exploited for our own ends. But the Kiowa, as with many indigenous peoples, have a completely different understanding. They believe in a fundamental unity between people and the environment in which they live, and Devil's Tower is a symbol of this.

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This is an interesting question just because Rainy Mountain (located in Oklahoma) is the usual mountain asked about in reference to The Way to Rainy Mountain; however, Devil's Tower (located in Wyoming) is important to the mythological section of the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans as well.  Any research on Wyoming's Devil's Tower will tell you its significance to the Kiowa.  According to Momaday and to Kiowa myth, a few Kiowa girls were out playing and suddenly saw a few giant bears.  Unfortunately, the bears began to chase them.  The girls climbed a rock in an attempt to escape the bears, but the rock they chose was too short.  At this point, the girls prayed hard for their safety.  Their prayers were heard, and the small rock the girls were standing on grew up beneath their feet.  This saved the girls from the bears.  The bears tried to climb the rock (leaving claw marks in the sides), but were unable to get to the girls.  The girls ascended into the heavens where they eventually became an important constellation:  Pleiades.  According to the Kiowa, it was Devi's Tower that was left behind.  The Kiowa tribe, however, refers to Devil's Tower as either "Aloft on a Rock" or "Tree Rock."  The name "Devil's Tower" was bestowed upon the monolith later in history.

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